Brief Outlines of the Major Documents of Catholic Social Teaching

compiled by Fr Paul Devitt

1891 – The Condition of Labour (Rerum Novarum) – encyclical, Leo XIII

Lays out rights and responsibilities of capital (owners) and labour (workers). Describes proper role of government. Condemns atheistic socialism.

1931 – The Reconstruction of the Social Order (Quadragesimo Anno) – encyclical, Pius XI

Decries the effects of greed and concentrated economic power on working people and society. Proposes a society based on subsidiarity.

1941 – The Solemnity of Pentecost (La Solennità della Pentecoste) – Radio message, Pius XII

Equitable distribution of whatever goods are available is more important than economic growth. The general right of all people to the use of the goods of the earth is more important than the right of individual to a particular item of private property.

1961 – Christianity and Social Progress (Mater et Magistra) – encyclical, John XXIII

Deplores widening gap between rich and poor nations, arms race and plight of farmers. Calls Christians to work for a more just world.

1963 – Peace on Earth (Pacem in Terris) – encyclical, John XXIII

Affirms full range of human rights as the basis for peace. Calls for disarmament and a world-wide public authority to promote universal common good.

1965 – The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) – Bishops of the world at Vatican II

Laments growing world poverty and threat of nuclear war. States responsibility of Christians to work for structures to make a more just and peaceful world.

1967 – The Development of Peoples (Populorum Progressio) – encyclical, Paul VI

Affirms right of poor nations to full human development. Decries economic structures promoting inequality. Calls for new international organizations and agreements.

1971 – A Call to Action (Octogesima Adveniens) – Apostolic letter, Paul VI

Calls for political action for economic justice. Develops role of individual Christians and local churches in responding to unjust situations.

1971 Justice in the world – Synod of Bishops

Names action for justice a constituent part of being Christian. Calls the church to model the justice she preaches.

1975 – Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntiandi) – Apostolic exhortation, Paul VI

Notes the dramatic societal changes and their challenge to the church. Calls evangelization the transforming of all aspects of life from within.

1979 – Redeemer of Humankind (Redemptor Hominis) – encyclical, John Paul II

Describes the threats to human dignity and freedom. States that current economic and political structures are inadequate to remedy injustice. Human rights are essential to human dignity

1981 – On Human Work (Laborem Exercens) – encyclical, John Paul II

Affirms the dignity of work based on dignity of the worker. Calls for workplace justice as responsibility of society, employer, worker.

1987 – The Social Concerns of the Church (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis) – encyclical, John Paul II

Names East-West blocs and other “structures of sin” which hinder development of poor nations. Calls for solidarity and for an option for the poor by affluent nations.

1991 – The 100th Year (Centesimus Annus) – encyclical, John Paul II

Reaffirms principles of Rerum Novarum. Identifies failures of both socialist and market economies. Calls for society of free work, enterprise and participation. Condemns consumerism.

1992 – Catechism of the Catholic Church

Especially Part III, ‘Life In Christ’

1994 – Towards the 3rd Millennium (Tertio Millennio Adveniente) – Apostolic Letter, John Paul II

A commitment to (i) justice and peace (ii) raising voices on behalf of the poor of the world (iii) substantially reducing or cancelling outright International Debt (iv) reflecting on the difficulties of dialogue between cultures; and on problems connected with women’s rights.

1995 – The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) – encyclical, John Paul II

A recognition of the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end. Names anti-life forces: the violence done to millions of human beings, especially children who are forced into poverty, malnutrition and hunger because of unjust distribution of resources; wars and arms trade; ecological destruction; the criminal spread of drugs; promotion of certain kinds of sexual activity, which involve grave risks to life; procured abortion – a ‘structure of sin’; infanticide of babies born with handicaps or illnesses; legalised euthanasia; population control as a means of controlling the population of poorer nations; assisted suicide.

1998Faith and Reason (Fides et Ratio) – encyclical, John Paul II

Examines the relationship between faith and reason in the search for answers to life’s ultimate questions and the search for truth. Freedom to seek truth is foundational for human dignity

2009In Love and Truth (Caritas in Veritate) – encyclical, Benedict XVI

A call to see the relationship between human and environmental ecologies and to link charity and truth in the pursuit of justice, the common good, and authentic human development. In doing so, the pope points out the responsibilities and limitations of government and the private market, challenges traditional ideologies of right and left, and calls all men and women to think and act anew.

2013The Light of Faith (Lumen Fidei) – encyclical, Francis


2013The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) – Apostolic Exhortation, Francis


2015Praise Be to You (Laudato Si’) – Encyclical, Francis


For complete texts and/or notable quotations from any of these documents, see: and follow the links under ‘Advocacy’